Exactly two years ago today, an earthquake struck the capital of Croatia. Two days later, the Museum Documentation Center first published an initial overview of damages to the Zagreb museums; after six months, we carried out research on the state of the museums ahead of the first winter. A year after the signing of contracts for the post-quake reconstruction financed by the EU Solidarity Fund, we conducted new research to find out how far had come the reconstruction of Zagreb museums.

Thirty museums, or 88%, out of 34 Zagreb museums listed in the Register of public and private museums in the Republic of Croatia, responded to the questionnaire. Out of the 30 museums, two reported no damages to either building or holdings. On the other hand, the fate of the HT Museum (Croatian Post and Telecommunication Museum), severely damaged in the quake, is uncertain. The museum is relocated, and closed to the public, not knowing whether it will return to the old building on Jurišićeva Street.

The research has shown that 56%, or 15 museums, plan to repair damages with financial resources from the EU Solidarity Fund, whether entirely (6 museums) or partially (9 museums). In addition, the majority of museums (17), among sources of reconstruction funding, cited funds provided by their founders; two museums cited insurance payout, and seven other sources (donations, sponsorships, other EU funds, own revenue). Regarding the completeness of project documentation needed for the reconstruction, the answers are almost equally divided—13 museums (48%) have prepared the project documentation, and 14 museums (52%) have not.


Chart 1. What source of funding financed or will finance the reconstruction of the museum building? (multiple choice question)

At present, five museums (19%) have started building renovation. Four museums (14%) have already repaired the damages—these are museums that suffered minimal or minor damage and did not plan structural reconstruction. That means that 67%, or 18 museums, have not started any renovation work on their buildings yet. Among them, 11 museums (61%) said that renovation would begin in three months, while seven museums (39%) will have to wait for six or more months for the first works to begin. Frequently cause for such delays can be found in the property disputes between the museum and the building owners.


Chart 2. Has any renovation work on the museum building started? If it has not yet, when is the work expected to start?

Many museums would first have to move out of their buildings for the reconstruction works to begin, for which the prerequisite is the allocation of space for the temporary storage of objects. Only seven museums (30%) out of the 23 that are in the middle of the renovation or about to start renovating have gotten a space for relocation. Three museums did not request any relocation space because the one they have at their disposal is sufficient, and 13 museums are either still looking for a relocation space or waiting for approval for its allocation. The problem isn't only finding space that would be large enough but finding space adequate for museum collection storage that would meet microclimatic and security conditions, as well as finding an alternative location for museum staff.

Obtaining space is followed by a challenging process of relocation and safe storage of museum holdings, which requires setting aside enough time. Unfortunately, 16 museums (59%) have not yet moved out. The Museum of Arts and Crafts, having begun the difficult task of relocating its hundred thousand objects on time—last spring—responded that it had moved out approximately 75% of its holdings. Only the Croatian Museum of Natural History managed to relocate almost everything because as part of the reconstruction of the palace, planned before the earthquake with funds from the European project, a collection storage facility in Novi Petruševac was equipped for its purpose. One-third of museums (9) did not need to move their collection out of the museum building.


Chart 3. Approximately how much of your museum collection have you moved?

According to data verified by MDC and published in the latest issue of Muzeologija journal, the March 2020 earthquake damaged 1,200 objects from Zagreb museums. Of 27 museums that have responded to this survey, one-third reported no damage to their collections. Among the museums that reported damage to their holdings (18), seven museums had not restored anything; two museums had restored around 25% of the artifacts, one museum 50%, five museums 75%, and three museums had restored all damaged objects.

Currently, the employees of Zagreb museums are, in the majority of cases, working from their offices, as confirmed by 24 museums (89%). Among those museums, four alternate between working from the office and home, and one museum simultaneously uses alternative locations. Three museums (11%) answered that their employees had been working exclusively from alternative locations.

We asked museums to give additional comments on the reconstruction and the biggest challenges they had been facing. Some of the responses were unsatisfactory collaborations with the founder regarding the approach to building reconstruction and with various agencies of the city and state governments in charge of the procurement process. Also, bureaucratization stalls the processing of applications by governing bodies, consequently hindering the beginning of reconstruction. The unresolved property disputes pose another big problem for some museums: involving, on the one hand, buildings used for public and residential purposes (Croatian School Museum, Croatian Sports Museum), which, for this reason, do not meet the conditions for receiving funds from the Solidarity Fund; on the other hand, museum buildings owned by another legal person (entity) that has total control over the renovation, thus excluding the museum from the decision-making process (National Museum of Modern Art, HT Museum). Furthermore, the museum, whose building is private property, is denied the right to pre-financing under the Act on Reconstruction of earthquake-damaged buildings meaning the museum would have to finance the entire reconstruction and wait indefinitely for a refund from state and city budgets (Šenoa House).

Although the reconstruction of museums has not moved forward much, it is unrealistic to expect completion of both project documentation and reconstruction of protected cultural heritage in the short period of 13 months that have passed since the first museums signed contracts to receive non-refundable financing from the EU Solidarity Fund. Lack of maintenance and repair of historic buildings, unresolved property disputes, sloppy building documentation, often even illegal building alterations, lack of a shared storage facility, lack of funds for paying insurance premiums—all of it finally caught up with museums and a large part of Zagreb in the earthquake. Judging by the data gathered through this survey, the reconstruction projects applied for the Solidarity Fund will be launched in the upcoming months. But, even when completed, it will be the beginning of years of reconstruction and certainly not the end of it.

(Ivona Marić and Dunja Vranešević, published originally in News from the Museum World 163, 22 March 2022; translated by Ivona Marić)